Obama set to announce clean energy vision

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The solar and wind industries are set to be cheered by the forthcoming revision of the U.S.’s Clean Power Plan that President Barack Obama will unveil at the White House Monday.

A fact sheet issued by the government late on Sunday revealed that the revised plan will outline ways to slash carbon emissions from the energy sector by 32% by 2030, based on 2005 output levels. This represents a 9% increase on previous proposals, and forms just part of a new set of rules designed to steer the U.S. power industry even further away from fossil fuel use.

Already, backers of coal-based industries have reacted angrily to the proposals, vowing to use Congressional maneuvers to challenge these new regulations in the courts – something that prompted the White House to announce that the Clean Power Plan is "the starting gun for an all-out climate push".

A video posted by the White House showed Obama saying: "My administration will release the final version of America’s Clean Power Plan, the biggest, most important step we have ever taken to combat climate change."

The successful implementation of the plan will reduce the share of coal in the U.S. electric generation mix to 27% by 2030. In 2014, coal’s share of the mix was 39%. By 2030, natural gas will be at around 30% of the energy mix, with renewables at 28% – up from an original proposal of 22%.

"Climate change is not a problem for another generation. Not anymore," said Obama. The President has just over one year left in office, but Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton – who last week vowed to install half a billion solar panels should she come to office – confirmed that she would defend Obama’s plan as president.

"It will need defending," Clinton said. "Because Republican doubters and defeatists – including every Republican candidate for president – won’t offer any credible solution. The truth is, they don’t want one."

Obama’s senior climate advisor Brian Deese said that the U.S.’s tougher stance on climate action would enhance the country’s ability to meet its carbon targets ahead of November’s Paris climate talks thanks to measures that will require every state to submit a climate change plan to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlining how it will decarbonize.

Each state will be given its own targets on Monday, the EPA confirmed. During the early years of the plan, says the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), utilities across the U.S. will shut or retrofit up to 73 GW of coal plant capacity by 2022 – a move that will lower carbon pollution significantly and yield economic and health benefits that are some “four to seven times greater” than the $8.4 billion required to enact the regulations.

The Clean Power Plan regulations could transform the U.S. energy landscape, with solar PV playing a pivotal role. "In today’s marketplace the best compliance option is clearly solar," the SEIA’s Rick Umoff told Bloomberg. "A more flexible timeline under the plan will only further encourage states to act early so they can take advantage of the booming solar economy and any compliance incentives that the EPA might offer."

Coal companies took a different view, however. Laura Sheehan, SVP at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity called the plan "Illegal" and vowed to not stop opposing it until it is withdrawn completely. "The President’s relentless climate crusade cannot be put ahead of the priorities of hardworking American who will pay the ultimate price of staggering electricity bills and lost jobs."

SEIA welcomes plan

Labeled "historic" and "critically needed", Obama’s signature climate change policy has been applauded by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) for its balanced approach towards improving the U.S.’s carbon footprint and grid reliability.

"Solar energy is the most sensible compliance option for states under the Clean Power Plan," said SEIA president Rhone Resch. "Solar works in all 50 states, has zero carbon emissions, creates more jobs per MW than any other technology, and can be deployed cost-effectively and quickly – all while improving grid reliability."

Resch added that the SEIA has worked closely with EPA officials over the past few years to help educate them on the benefits of solar power and its ability to help states meet their carbon reduction goals. The EPA will seek to incentivize states to take advantage of solar’s falling costs and rapid deployment early – a ruling that SEIA believes shows just how pivotal EPA thinks solar can be in the U.S.’s transition to cleaner power.

"As a nation, it is time to replace our aging, dirty energy infrastructure with clean, reliable 21st century energy technologies, like solar," Resch said. "And as an industry, we look forward to solar helping states achieve an optimal long-term strategy for their economy and environment."